The Taxidermist’s Daughter by Kate Mosse

IMG_1131 (3) ‘Do not be afraid. I am watching you.’

Things like this don’t happen in Chichester, muses Harry Woolston in Kate Mosse’s The Taxidermist’s Daughter. Harry only thinks that because he is one of very few characters in this macabre, enjoyable novel who has absolutely nothing to hide. His respectable father – a dull pillar of Chichester society – certainly might, and he would be far from alone if so. The odd opening tableau at a darkened, isolated church, where ghosts apparently walk, suggests that a group of such men might well need to be giving fresh thought to getting their stories straight after the fact. To be honest, by about page 50 it has become apparent that everyone – well, virtually everyone – has a secret in the West Sussex hamlet of Fishbourne. It is 1912 and dark happenings a decade earlier have been hushed up. They appear as fragments in conversations and strange actions which we are given licence to piece together, much as the titular Connie must do. She had an accident which robbed her of her memory before the age of 12 – which is, by no coincidence, exactly ten years ago. Realisation comes back to her in disjointed rushes, like the sound returning to ears slowly emptying of sea water. And now someone is watching and seems to have the distinct feeling that the punishment should fit the crime. The lonely salt marshes and shingle-lapping tides, carefully placed by the author as a distinctive background wash to the narrative, are just the sort of chilly environs in which it is probably best to make sure the back door is bolted before you go to bed. Because when the art and science of taxidermy is described in such forensic, loving detail, it’s a fair bet that it might not just be crows and rooks which are in line for suitable treatment. ‘In death there can be beauty,’ reads the book’s cover line. Not in most cases, on this evidence. There’s a lot about scalpels and skin. Mosse is happy to turn the Gothic up to 11 and a very satisfying noise it makes, too. By the end there is a Biblical storm which matches the retribution being theatrically handed out.


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